NAB: FCC Shouldn't Review Media Rules on 'Unsupported Opinion'

The National Association of Broadcasters plans to tell Congress that the FCC has failed to determine whether its media ownership rules service the public, and needs to base its review of those rules on evidence, not "unsupported opinion."

That is according to the prepared testimony of NAB exec Jane Mago for the June 11 "Media Ownership in the 21st Century" hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee.

Mago will argue that broadcasters are subject to old rules that distort competition, while less-regulated competitors like cable and satellite grab audience share and ad revenues.

For example, Mago says that the TV duopoly rule (which prevents broadcasters from owning more than two stations in a market, with no more than one of those among the top four stations, and not even two stations in smaller markets) assumes broadcasters only compete against other broadcasters, rather than the cable ops and online and mobile video sources. "This massive increase in competition is directly relevant to consideration of broadcast ownership restrictions, yet the FCC continues to insist that cable and online video do not provide 'meaningful' competition for ad dollars," she says.

Mago also points out that the FCC itself has previously found the newspaper-broadcast crossownership ban to be unnecessary—a bipartisan trio for former chairs has also admitted it was still on the books for fear of upsetting Congress—but yet the ban remains in place.

"To maintain the ability to provide quality local service, the broadcast ownership rules must permit reasonable combinations of station ownership," she says.

NAB is also unhappy that the FCC failed to complete its 2010 quadrennial rule review as required by Congress. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler combined the 2010 with the 2014, which won't be finished until 2016. "Rolling the 2010 review into a new 2014 cycle to be completed perhaps in 2016, creates uncertainty for broadcasters, chills investment, dries up access to capital and thus diminishes opportunity in broadcasting," she says.

NAB has already signaled its unhappiness with the FCC's media ownership rules with two recent lawsuits over the commission's decision to tighten joint sales agreement rules while failing to loosen newspaper-broadcast crossownership rules, and over the Media Bureau's advisory on how sharing agreements with associated financial arrangements will have a high hurdle if they appear to be attempts to skirt the local ownership rules.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.